by Joanna Orland
Sam Waterston has had a long and prosperous acting career. Known best for his roles in The Killing Fields, Law & Order, The Newsroom and most recently Grace and Frankie, Sam’s latest project is a short film directed by his son Graham Chychele Waterston entitled And It Was Good.
The Waterstons are slowly becoming a filmmaking dynasty with Sam’s daughter, and co-producer of And It Was Good, Katherine taking on Hollywood roles in Inherent Vice, Steve Jobs and the new J.K. Rowling film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Sam’s son-in-law Louis Cancelmi is also an actor, currently starring in the subject at hand – And It Was Good.
As the Waterston family were kind enough to take time out of their busy schedules to discuss Graham’s brilliant short film, here is our interview with Sam Waterston.
What was your initial reaction when your children told you of their career aspirations in acting and filmmaking?
It’s wonderful work and an awful business (or is it that business is just awful everywhere?). Only do it if you can’t help yourself. If you’re going to do it, be prepared for a fight, and pray for good fortune. I’ll be rooting for you, and it’ll be fun to see what you do.
Did you encourage or try to dissuade your children to follow in your footsteps?
See previous answer. There’s no mistaking their gifts and abilities. If you have a calling, what are you going to do, not answer the phone? Plus, this way, we get to talk shop together. One show business career is worrying, and five is a lot for any one person to stress about. Lynn and I share, so it’s less bad. And, bottom line, they’re GOOD. They PERSEVERE. And they’re INDEPENDENT, they make their own choices. And we cheer for them. Sometimes it looks like FORTUNE has taken a shine to us. I hope so.
How did you yourself end up pursuing a career in show business?
My mother was in a play when she was pregnant with me. My father was my first director when I was six. That started the ball rolling. Eventually, I couldn’t help myself.
What was it like being directed by your son Graham in And It Was Good?
It was wonderful. It was a real delight to watch him expand by leaps and bounds in the job that had been waiting for him, and that he was delighted by, and very good at from the start. I loved being directed by him, who wouldn’t, he’s good at it. Plus, I liked the performance that came out of it, which is rare. From which I conclude, he didn’t just look like he knew what he was doing, he knew what he was doing. It’s a special movie, too, so that was another clue.
This film is very much a family affair with Graham directing, Katherine co-producing and Louis starring in it. What are some of the challenges of working with family on a creative project?
You left out that Graham’s mother did the catering. For the whole cast and crew. For every meal. For the whole shoot. That’s the way she rolls. We’re a lucky bunch. We enjoy each other’s company.
What are some of the challenges of telling a story and developing a character in short film vs feature length?
I wasn’t the story teller, but a full-length movie IS a short story, so a short film is a big challenge. That was Graham’s department. He packed a lot into those few minutes. A character needs and requires whoever plays him to bring him alive, whether the movie is short or long, so, there, the challenges are the same.
And It Was Good was funded successfully through Kickstarter, and these days a lot of Hollywood stars are turning to independent cinema for work. What does indie film offer an actor that Hollywood doesn’t?
Where shall I begin?
You’ve currently found success on Netflix with Grace and Frankie – How did you get involved with the series, and what’s it been like to work alongside Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda and Martin Sheen?
Somebody told me Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, and Martin Sheen were going to be in a series together, and would I like to join them? Of course I said “Yes,” who wouldn’t? I’ve been having a seriously good time ever since. Pourvu que ça dure.
What’s up next for you?
Are you offering me a job?
If there were only word to summarize Sam Waterston, what would that one word be?
You’re asking this? Seriously? OK: blessed.